Al Massira reservoir


Morocco, facing a prolonged drought exacerbated by climate change, is witnessing a severe depletion of its water resources, impacting both agriculture and urban supply.

Satellite imagery reveals that Al Massira Dam, Morocco’s second-largest reservoir located between Casablanca and Marrakesh, now holds only 3% of the water it contained nine years ago.

The reservoir has experienced six consecutive years of drought coupled with record temperatures leading to increased evaporation rates. This dire situation extends beyond Al Massira, affecting the entire North African nation and its economic sectors, especially agriculture, which consumes nearly 90% of the country’s water supply according to 2020 World Bank data.

Farmers like Abdelmajid El Wardi, operating near Rabat, report devastating effects on crops and livestock.

“The most difficult drought we have experienced in history is this year,” Mr Wardi said.

“For me, the current agricultural year is lost.”

Mr. El Wardi has faced significant crop failures and livestock losses, including stillbirths in sheep due to scarce water and forage.

Groundwater sources, such as wells, are also running dry, compounding the challenges faced by rural communities.

The water scarcity has led to drastic measures including the mandatory closure of hammams, or public steam rooms, in major cities for three days each week to conserve water. Meanwhile, King Mohammed VI has called for intensified efforts to ensure drinking water availability nationwide, highlighting the issue’s severity at a recent high-level meeting.

In response to the crisis, Morocco is increasing its investment in seawater desalination plants. However, these facilities pose environmental concerns as they consume significant energy and can discharge brine and chemicals back into the marine environment.

Historically reliant on rainfall, Al Massira Dam has not been able to provide irrigation water since 2021, with the Ministry of Water confirming the cessation due to the drastic reduction in water levels. The Oum Er-Rbia River, which feeds the reservoir, has seen diminished inflows from its source in the Middle Atlas mountains.

Environmental analysts and academics highlight the disappearing springs and reduced snowfall in the mountains as contributing factors.

The situation is aggravated by record-breaking heat, with Morocco logging its highest-ever temperature of 50.4°C in August of the previous year. Such extreme conditions accelerate evaporation, placing additional stress on the already strained water resources.

Research by Dr. William Fletcher from the University of Manchester underscores Morocco’s vulnerability to climate change. His studies reveal the potential local extinction of Atlas cedar trees, a species that has endured since the last ice age.

These findings indicate a grim outlook for Morocco’s natural and managed ecosystems, suggesting that future conditions could worsen with ongoing climate change.

“It’s important to recognise that there have always been droughts in Morocco throughout history, but global climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of droughts… and that will continue through this century.”



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